17.05.2021 South Africa

New delay in graft case for South Africa's Zuma

By Gersende RAMBOURG
Zuma greets supporters before his corruption trial is postponed.  By ROGAN WARD (POOL/AFP)
LISTEN MAY 17, 2021
Zuma greets supporters before his corruption trial is postponed. By ROGAN WARD (POOL/AFP)

The corruption trial of South Africa's scandal-tainted Jacob Zuma was postponed once again on Monday, this time to May 26, as backers of the former president staged a boisterous show of support.

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand, then the equivalent of nearly $5 billion.

The 79-year-old Zuma, who was president Thabo Mbeki's deputy at the time, is accused of accepting bribes totalling four million rand from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.

The case has been postponed numerous times as Zuma, who has described the trial as a "political witch hunt", lodged a string of motions to have the charges dropped.

In the latest snag last month, all of Zuma's lawyers quit without explanation.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) forced Zuma to resign in 2018 after a mounting series of scandals.

Zuma struck a defiant note after Monday's postponement, telling supporters outside the courthouse: "If I were to reveal the things I know about other people, it would be a disaster."

Zuma was the feared intelligence chief of Nelson Mandela's ANC during the party's years in exile under apartheid, hunting down traitors and informers.

Zuma also spent 10 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner. He has constantly played cat-and-mouse with the anti-corruption commission that he himself set up in early 2018 in an abortive bid to convince the country that he had nothing to hide.

At Monday's brief hearing, nearly everyone rose as Zuma, dressed in a dark blue suit, entered the wood-panelled courtroom at the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

In response, he clasped his hands in front of his chest.

A man sitting in the public gallery chanted "Long live Jacob Zuma, long live!"

Outside, dozens of supporters wearing military fatigues, some dancing, formed an honour guard as Zuma left the court building.

Zuma said he was "ready for trial and waiting for the law to take its course", while warning he would "fight if the laws are bent".

'Boxes of evidence'

The state has lined up around 200 witnesses in the case, in which Thales is also in the dock.

Thales, represented by Pierre-Marie Durand, is also in the dock.  By ROGAN WARD (POOL/AFP) Thales, represented by Pierre-Marie Durand, is also in the dock. By ROGAN WARD (POOL/AFP)

Patricia De Lille, who blew the whistle on the arms deal and is now public works minister, had been due to be the first witness on Monday.

She spoke of "boxes and boxes of evidence," telling journalists: "Finally this evidence will be disclosed by the state".

The opposition politician said she blew the whistle to help "root out the bad apples within the ANC, (but) the response... was vicious".

"We were vilified, ridiculed," she said.

Carl Niehaus, a fervent Zuma supporter and former spokesman for Mandela, said he was anxious for the trial to end because "our leader cannot be persecuted any further".

For his part, ANC lawmaker Supra Mahumapelo said Zuma, "at his advanced age... should be allowed to go into obscurity and we to move forward as a society."

Zuma's successor Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to root out corruption.

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